Heart disease and ED
Men with erection problems have an extra reason to see their doctor, as even relatively minor erectile difficulties could signal 'silent' heart disease and may indicate an increased risk of dying early.
Erection problems are very common. The NHS estimates 50% of men aged 40 to 70 years have it to some degree.
Researchers say men with erectile dysfunction have a higher risk of hospital admission for heart disease, even if they have no history of heart problems. They are also at greater risk of premature death from any cause.
Rather than causing heart disease, erectile dysfunction is more likely to be a symptom or signal of underlying 'silent' heart disease.
In future, doctors may be able to use this to help predict the risk of a cardiovascular problem.
Cardiovascular health and ED
Narrowed blood vessels, often linked with cardiovascular disease, affect blood flow and may cause ED in some men.
Rather than just treating the erectile dysfunction, a doctor may recommend addressing, and where appropriate treating, the cardiovascular disease risk factors to help relieve ED.
This may include:
- Taking blood pressure readings to check for high blood pressure, or hypertension
- Listening for heart rate abnormalities
- Measuring height, weight and waist circumference and working out body mass index (BMI) to assess whether a man is a healthy weight for his height
- Asking questions about diet and lifestyle and exercise
- Arranging blood tests for cholesterol and diabetes, which can affect the heart and blood vessels.
Treating heart disease and ED
ED is a sensitive topic but experts say men shouldn't suffer in silence.
There are many effective treatments, both for erectile dysfunction and for cardiovascular disease.
Some treatments for erectile dysfunction called phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE-5) inhibitors should be used with caution for men with cardiovascular disease, such as coronary heart disease. These treatments include sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis) and vardenafil (Levitra).
Some treatments for high blood pressure and high cholesterol commonly prescribed to people who also have heart disease, or a risk of heart disease, may also have erectile dysfunction as a side effect.
These include diuretics and antihypertensives used to treat high blood pressure.
Fibrate medicines for lowering cholesterol levels also have ED as a possible side effect.
Reviewed on 24 December 2013